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Exit the Expressway

The last place I’d look for the Scajaquada Expressway – which, as I pointed out here, wasn’t designed so much as it was engineered – would be the New York Times Style section. Yet there it is this weekend, a pre-Halloween feature of steel and concrete horror.

The use of “swooshy” in the title captures the essence of the postwar Jetsons fantasy of zipping about everywhere unimpeded, hermetically sealed from neighborhood, landscape, and urban grit, with tail fins and rocket-nozzle taillights propelling us Tom Swiftly upon our appointed rounds. Along with the article, the photographer perfectly captured Exhibit A of the horror that futuristic fantasy imposed on an American urban landscape: where the expressway leaves the high ground above Hoyt Lake and descends toward now-all-but-forgotten Scajaquada Creek and the cultural district landscape, both of which have been relegated to background noise in a discordant symphony of embankments and steel beam bridges and ramps and a wasteland of redundant travel lanes designed for more than double the traffic it ushers through in obliviousness.

But perhaps even more, I appreciated the smaller photos showing the jarring visual impact of the imported suburban highway kit bag on the natural landscape of the park and creek. They remind me of a photo I took recently when on a path just west of Lincoln Parkway, about to descent the same high ground to Mirror Lake. I ground to a halt when a giant expressway sign loomed up directly ahead, like a sentry blocking my passage. The sense of intrusion was astonishing. I wanted to tear it out of the ground.

I first met a New York Times reporter when I was working on a community campaign with interesting parallels to the one now unfolding in Buffalo over the 198. In Buffalo, the name of the game is to overturn a bad planning mistake. In Rochester, in 2005, we were trying to prevent one from happening in the first place. The City had developed a plan to demolish and fill in the old subway tunnel that runs under downtown. To stop that, a group of opponents joined forces to launch the “Chill the Fill” campaign. We gave educational tours and held a petition drive and spoke at City Council. Bright yellow CHILL THE FILL t-shirts became a fashion statement. We were noticed and heard. City Hall backed down.

Somewhere along the way, a New York Times reporter named Patrick O’Gilfoil Healy heard about the fight and paid a visit to Rochester. We met with him, and he wrote a story with some parallels to this weekend’s. It provided a needed outside perspective on the situation.

Perhaps it’s time for some bright yellow t-shirts. In the meantime, here are some other things you can do to un-swoosh the Scajaquada corridor:

Sign the petition: the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has an online petition calling for DOT to back off their current plan. You can sign here.

Attend the meeting: the Parkside Community Association will have a discussion about the 198 this week, on Wednesday evening, October 25. More information here.

Read the reads: It’s a long slog – so much that someone recently suggested publishing it as a book – but our series on using Olmstedian principles and examples for remaking the Scajaquada Expressway corridor is nearing an end.

The latest installment (with links to the previous installments) is here. Other key reads about the DOT’s “It’s highway or the highway” approach (here) and why we’re not where we need to be regarding the 198 (here).

Written by RaChaCha


RaChaCha is a Garbage Plate™ kid making his way in a Chicken Wing world. Since 2008, he's put over a hundred articles on here, and he asked us to be sure to thank you for reading. So, thank you for reading. You may also have seen his freelance byline in Artvoice, where he writes under the name his daddy gave him [Ed: Send me a check, and I might reveal what that is]. When he's not writing, RaChaCha is an urban planner, a rehabber of houses, and a community builder. He co-founded the Buffalo Mass Mob, and would love to see you at the next one. He represents Buffalo Young Preservationists on the Trico roundtable. If you try to demolish a historic building, he might have something to say about that. He is a proud AmeriCorps alum.

Things you may not know about RaChaCha (unless you read this before): "Ra Cha Cha" is a nickname of his hometown. (Didn't you know that? Do you live under a rock?) He's a political junkie (he once worked for the president of the Monroe County Legislature), but we don't really let him write about politics on here. He helped create a major greenway in the Genesee Valley, and worked on early planning for the Canalway Trail. He hopes you enjoy biking and hiking on those because that's what he put in all that work for. He was a ringleader of the legendary "Chill the Fill" campaign to save Rochester's old downtown subway tunnel. In fact, he comes from a long line of troublemakers. An ancestor fought at Bunker Hill, and a relative led the Bear Flag Revolt in California. We advise you to remember this before messing with him in the comments. He worked on planning the Rochester ARTWalk, and thinks Buffalo should have one of those, too (write your congressman).

You can also find RaChaCha (all too often, we frequently nag him) on the Twitters at @HeyRaChaCha. Which is what some people here yell when they see him on the street. You know who you are.

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